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February 28, 2015

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Tears, emotions flow at memorial for Basic High teacher

Students, ready to move forward, air grief at emotional ceremony


Heather Cory

From left to right, JacQue Vokoun and Randa Summers hold each other as they cry during the Wednesday memorial service for Basic High School choir teacher Matthew Cox. Cox, 32, was found dead in his home Dec. 22. Police arrested Jose A. Delatorre, 18, and his brother, Juan Aguirre, in connection with his death.

Remembering Matt Cox

Students and teachers remember slain choir director Matt Cox with music at a memorial service for him at Basic High School.

Matthew Cox Memorial Service

Unable to hold back the tears, members of the Basic High School Madrigals cry during the Wednesday memorial service for choir teacher Matthew Cox. Cox, 32, was found dead in his home Dec. 22. Launch slideshow »

Audio Clip

  • Matthew Cox performs a solo, "And So It Goes," with his choir in Hopkins, Mich., during his last performance before moving to Nevada. Audio clip courtesy his family.
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Staff and students at Basic High School have made their feelings clear: Once a wolf, always a wolf.

At a memorial Wednesday evening for slain choir teacher Matt Cox — their "fallen wolf" — family, friends, colleagues and students gathered to remember Cox and, as Principal David Bechtel said, take the first step toward moving on since his death.

Cox was found dead in his home Dec. 22. Police arrested Jose A. Delatorre, 18, and Juan Aguirre, 17, one of Cox's students, the next day.

Delatorre and Aguirre, who is being tried as an adult, are scheduled to appear before Henderson Justice of the Peace Rodney Burr at 9 a.m. Thursday. They are facing charges of murder, conspiracy to commit robbery, robbery, grand larceny-auto, burglary and kidnapping for their alleged role in Cox's death.

His funeral was Saturday in his home state of Michigan.

Rather than mourn the tragedy of his death, those gathered in Basic's gym wanted to celebrate the life of the 32-year-old teacher.

"He gave students who are often overlooked a chance to be great," Bechtel said.

The students who had Cox as a teacher didn't try to hide their grief. After a group prayer in the choir room, each one filed into the gym to perform "You Are the New Day." Their faces were already tear-stained before the memorial service began.

As the students listened to each speaker and each song, many clung to friends for support, remembering the teacher who would often run late to class, arriving with Starbucks coffee in-hand and wearing his plaid pants, pulling off a look no one else could, they said.

As they wept, so did many of the several hundred people in the audience.

"Ask anyone who had him as a teacher, it's obvious how much they love him," Debbie Armstrong, Cox's mother, said after the memorial.

She and her husband, Tim Armstrong, Cox's stepfather, flew in from Michigan for the service.

"People I never even knew were coming up to me, saying, 'Your son saved my son,' or 'Your son saved my daughter,'" she said. "It didn't matter who you were. If you had a problem, it was Matt's problem."

While in college, Cox had taken several extra classes in different areas, such as counseling, Debbie Armstrong said. He always had a way of working with the students and helping them through their issues, she said.

People don't recognize how much they appreciate something until it's gone, student director Jenson Lavallee said.

But, "What if you already appreciate it?" he said. "Does it still have to leave?"

Debbie Armstrong said Cox wanted to be an architect at one point, which makes sense according to current and former administrators at Basic. When he started, the choir room was drab, they said, but he transformed it into something exciting.

"The room just came to life when he was there," said former Basic principal Susan Segal. "That's Matt."

Cox started teaching at Basic in fall 2006. Before that, he brought a kindergarten through 12th grade choir program to a school in Hopkins, Mich. Mary Beekman was a parent of a choir student when Cox taught there, and said much of the reason she kept her daughter at that school was because of him.

"He provided a niche for a large group of students who didn't necessarily fit in anywhere else," she said. "His teaching was inspiring, and his choirs improved every year."

To honor Cox, Basic administrators are starting the Matthew Cox Scholarship. There isn't a specific amount of money they would like to raise, Assistant Principal Roxanne Kelley said, but they'd like to be able to give a substantial amount to at least one Basic student.

If enough money is raised, they will also provide at least one scholarship to a Hopkins student, knowing the impact he made in that community, she said.

They plan to reach out to the staff, students and the Clark County School District choir teachers to raise money.

Anyone interested in donating funds can reach Kelley at 799-8000.

Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or [email protected].

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